The Pacific Room


Format: ISBN 978-0-9943595-5-0 Trade PB 240pp Rights: World Release / Publication Date: 01 /07 /2017


‘A wonderfully stylistic novel, dreamlike and mesmeric. It moves with ekphrastic cadences, from painting to writing and back again, between the present and the past, both muted and full of nuance, like a watercolour of archived time. Fitzgerald skilfully employs a controlled language of concealment and careful observation through which character is translated. All the while, there are subliminal disturbances below, indicating fatal and fateful meetings between culture and history.’

—Brian Castro, Winner of  the Patrick White Award for Literature

This remarkable debut novel tells of the last days of Tusitala, ‘the teller of tales’, as Robert Louis Stevenson became known in Samoa where he chose to die. In 1892 Girolamo Nerli travels from Sydney by steamer to Apia, with the intention of capturing something of Jekyll and Hyde in his portrait of the famous author. Nerli’s presence sets in train a disturbing sequence of events. More than a century later, art historian Lewis Wakefield comes to Samoa to research the painting of Tusitala’s portrait by the long-forgotten Italian artist. On hiatus from his bipolar medication, Lewis is freed to confront the powerful reality of all the desires and demons that R. L. Stevenson couldn’t control. Lewis’s personal journey is shadowed by the story of the lovable Teuila, a so-called fa‘afafine (‘in the manner of a woman’), and the spirit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo. Set in an evocative tropical landscape haunted by the lives and spirits which drift across it, The Pacific Room is both a love letter to Samoa and a lush and tender exploration of artistic creation, of secret passions and merging dualities.

‘Absolutely fascinating. The Pacific Room stays true to the Treasure Island life of Robert Louis Stevenson, yet frames it within a meta-narrative that moves seamlessly between contemporary Australia and nineteenth-century Samoa – with hauntingly curious twists in the tale.’

—Peter Hill, award-winning author of Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper


Michael Fitzgerald grew up in Melbourne and moved to Sydney in the early 1990s to work on Time Warner Inc.’s launch of the celebrity magazine Who. He later became the South Pacific arts editor of Time, and for the past two decades has been an art magazine editor, most recently with Art Monthly Australasia. He made his literary debut in 2017 with The Pacific Room, a fictional speculation on Robert Louis Stevenson’s travels through Oceania, followed by Pietà (2021), inspired by the restoration of Michelangelo’s sculpture. Late is his third novel.

‘In The Pacific Room, Fitzgerald moves between these two periods. Stevenson comes in and out of focus; is both closely observed as awkwardly he dresses and dissolves into legend and the physical remains – house, books, photographs – that attest to his presence in Samoa.

We witness the meeting of Stevenson – to the Samoans, Tusitala, “the teller of tales” and Nerli, who decides that he ought to be called Tusiata, “a sketcher of shadows”. The painting was finished, and often reproduced, its “atmosphere /… at once simple and severe, Samoan and Scottish”. Nerli will vanish into obscurity in Auckland, not before impregnating the Stevensons’ English maid.

As Wakefield wanders dreamily in and out of the past, Fitzgerald gives us glimpses through contemporary Samoan eyes of atrophied tribal ways, but still tenacious belief in a world of spirits, sexual ambivalence, the economic lure of New Zealand.’

Peter Pierce, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald 14 July 2017

‘… filled to the brim with fascinating characters and gorgeous scenery. Exploring the duality of human nature, this is a Jekyll and Hyde like tale that explores the public and private sides of a character. But where one might expect a simplistic tale of good and evil, Fitzgerald instead presents a tender and touching series of vignettes, brief glimpses that build up multi-faceted and interesting people, who occupy neither light nor dark, but some grey place in between. Coupled with a gift for gorgeous prose and rich imagery, it might prove to be one of the most colourful selection of greys you’ll ever read!’

Jodie B. Sloan, AU Review 3 August 2017

‘… Fitzgerald handles his various storylines deftly, and he writes compressed, evocative prose …’

SH, The Saturday Paper 15 July 2017

‘ Its imagery is beautiful. And, as I closed the book, I saw all sorts of things in the photograph on the inner covers that I just didn’t see before.’

Resident Judge, 18 July 2017

‘The  Pacific Room is an interesting and clever novel. The author slowly unravels the tale, and involves the reader in the lives of the main characters, and the customs and culture that surrounds them. The writing is almost lyrical, and blends in beautifully with the swaying palms and the movement of the ocean. As with the ocean, there is an undercurrent, which is mesmerizing to hear, and slow to be revealed.’

Blue Wolf Reviews, 2 July 2017

‘This is one of the best-written novels I’ve read this year. Fitzgerald’s words are so perfectly honed, each sentence beautifully balanced and full of vivid imagery. The plot is languid, like the Samoan setting’s air, inhaling in the past as Robert Louis Stevenson dies and exhaling in the now as Lewis comes to terms with his family’s tragic past. Both sensory and sensual, this is a gorgeous piece of writing with a powerful sense of place.’

 Good Reads

Michael Fitzgerald speaks to Kate Evans on Radio National